THIS selection of old medallions and tokens arrived in the post at Bugle House, sent by an anonymous reader, with just a simple note attached: “Sorting through my late husband’s things I came across these sort of commemorative items and wondered if they may be of interest to you.” Indeed they are of interest and we thank our nameless donor.
The three pieces are of an early 19th century token, a gardening medal, and a commemorative medallion for the opening of Wolverhampton Art Gallery.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, as Britain was embroiled in the Napoleonic wars, the domestic economy was struck by a shortage of currency, particularly pennies and halfpennies. This affected employers who struggled to find the cash to pay their workers. To get around the shortage many businesses minted their own tokens with which they paid their staff, who could then use the tokens to pay for goods at local shops.
This example from the Rose Copper Company is typical of the kind. In 1811 they issued penny and halfpenny tokens, one side bears the company name and date and the other side gives the value and where the company was based – Birmingham and Swansea.
The company was founded in around 1792 by a group of Birmingham businessmen, among them the most prominent Birmingham manufacturer of his day, Matthew Boulton.
The Rose Copper Company supplied him with the copper he needed for his many minting contracts and this token was made by Boulton at his Soho Mint.
The company initially operated in Cornwall before taking over smelters in south Wales in 1797. It appears to have ceased operations in the early 1820s as in 1823 John Williams and his sons, in partnership with others, took over the Rose Copper Works in the Swansea valley.
Our second item is an post- First World War example of the Banksian Medal, awarded by the Royal Horticultural Society and named after one of its founding members.
The society began as the Horticultural Society of London and was the idea of John Wedgwood, son of the famous potter Josiah Wedgwood. The first meeting was held on 7th March, 1804, Wedgwood was chairman and he was joined by Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society, William Townsend Aiton, Superintendent of Kew Gardens, James Dickson, a noted botanist, William Forsyth, Superintendent of Gardens at St James’s Palace and Kensington Palace, Charles Francis Greville, politician and antiquarian, and Richard Anthony Salisbury, who became the society’s first secretary. The society was granted its royal charter in 1861.
Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) was a celebrated botanist, naturalist and scientist. He introduced many exotic plant species, such as eucalyptus, mimosa and acacia, to the western world and has around 80 species named after him, the best known being the Australian flowering plant Banksia.
In 1766 Banks sailed to Newfoundland and Labrador to study their natural history and he followed this by joining Captain Cook’s first expedition to the southern Pacific, 1768-1771.
In 1778 he was elected President of the Royal Society and held the position for 41 years. In this role, and as advisor to George III on the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, Banks promoted many voyages of discovery, such as George Vancouver’s exploration of the northeastern Pacific and William Bligh’s ill-fated breadfruit expedition aboard HMS Bounty; Banks also fostered the colonisation of New South Wales.
The Banksian Medal is awarded by horticultural societies affiliated with the RHS.
Numbers are strictly limited and generally the individual societies are only allowed to award one Banksian medal a year.
This particular medal was awarded on 18th July, 1919, to H. Davies of Birmingham for vegetables. Unfortunately, it appears that this medal was not well struck as some of the letters in the inscription are unclear, possibly due to wear and tear on the original die. The inscription should read, “Sir Joseph Banks BT PRS Born 1743 Died 1820”.
Our last item is a large medallion in white metal struck to commemorate the opening of Wolverhampton Art Gallery on 30th May, 1884. One side bears in impressive relief depiction of the art gallery building, which was designed by the Birmingham architect Julius Chatwin and built by Horsman and Co.
The building is noted for the relief sculptures on the upper storey, the work of the firm Richard Lockwood Boulton and Sons, with 16 figures facing onto Lichfield Street, representing art and sculpture, and 18 figures facing St Peter’s Close, depicting the sciences.
The opening ceremony was conducted by Arthur, 3rd Baron Wrottesley, Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire, using a golden key made by the local firm of Chubb and Sons. The building cost £8,500, defrayed by Philip Horsman, who also bequeathed his collection of paintings to the gallery.
The obverse reads “Wolverhampton and Staffordshire Fine Arts and Industry Exhibition” with the town’s original coat of arms. When the town council was established in 1848 these arms were adopted although they were not granted officially by the College of Heralds.
When the council celebrated its jubilee in 1898 it applied for official arms and the design was simplified into the single shield we know today and the Latin motto, E Tenebris Oritur Lux, was translated into English, Out of Darkness Cometh Light.